On the Nature of Physical Reality—A Mental Construct

©Fernando Caracena 2015

Perhaps, I should have written this post as a third part to the series entitled, "Particle Manifestation of Quantum States." However, the material presented here covers most of what I would have written in such a post, making that extra post unnecessary.

The Perennial Question

The question "What is Reality?" is almost a part of being human. Much discussion surrounds that question in philosophy and science. We have touched on that question in various previous posts, for example, "Nature's Ultimate Joke" and "Emergent Properties and Physics." Philosophical discussions of that question appear also in Substance and Form–Philosophy and Physics Part IPart II, and Part III.

Here I offer a few thoughts about what physical reality is, based on analogies with things we moderns are familiar.

A Model Incorporating Quantum Mechanics

The post, "Particle Manifestation of Quantum States Part 1"

describes how quantum effects relate to a holistic universe:

"... quantum theory reveals that we live in a holistic universe, where the totality of everything feeds back to make individuality possible. Not only time and space emerge from processes of the whole of creation, but individual objects emerge from the totality of processes of the universe, and even more, since although vast, the universe is not infinite.


...the void in our thinking, missed by modern theories, is some theory of reality itself. That is the burr in the saddle of modern thought, which is the focus of the second part of this series."

Part 2   of the series states that particles are really events, and properties such as trajectories in detection apparatuses are basically a string, or series of interactions, with the matter matrix, which itself has condensed out of the quantum background through interactions that produced bound states of fundamental constituents. Without the matter matrix, there would be no sense of time and space. It would be a timeless world of nowhere. Hence, the particle trajectory is an emergent phenomenon that results from the set of all interactions of the "particle" in question with the matter matrix of the universe. The result is an elongated cloud of interactions that suggest a trajectory.

Two Parts of Physical Reality

There are, therefore, two parts to physical reality: 1) the mysterious background space that is some kind of manifestation of energy, which has no perceptible properties of space and time and is perhaps, infinite; and 2), clusters of matter of various sizes (the matter matrix) that form the background against which we see things happening and measure time intervals. Background space is like the Ein Sof of of the Jewish esoteric system of philosophy, the Kabbalah (see also Kabbalah of Isaac Luria).

Space devoid of matter is still something, but like  Gertrude Stein's Oakland, "there is no there there". Instead, space is filled according to physics, with a set of boundless motions (zero point energy) , the magnitude of which cannot is not predicted by known physics. Apparently, Isaac Newton recognized the special nature of space. An article on the Internet   ("Newton on Science and Religion") contains the following:

Perhaps the most remarkable of Newton's analyses [, i]n the 28th Query of his 1717/18 edition of Opticks[, Newton] argued that the universe had a similar relationship to God as the 'sensorium' (the part of the brain where sensing occurs) had to humans — that is, God perceived and understood things in the universe 'by their immediate presence to himself' ... Gottfried Leibniz, were highly critical of Newton's notion of the sensorium and in the 31st Query he cautioned that this did not mean that the world was the body of God, which was a heresy, and he stressed that God had no need of organs. In the same Query he noted that that God 'is more able by his Will to move the Bodies within his boundless uniform sensorium, and thereby to form and reform the Parts of the Universe, than we are by our Will to move our own Bodies'.

Kabbalistic thinking would assign the unknowable seething space as a reflection of God in the highest level of physical creation. Swedenborg (see, "Substance and Form–Philosophy and Physics Part III") would say that space corresponds to the unknowable aspects of an infinite God, reflected in his creation.

Whatever space is, the distribution of localized matter affect and modulate the action of the energy of space on small bits of matter. On the smallest level, the presence of electrons in available energy states, excludes the presence of other electrons in the same states of motion. The particles that satisfy this rule (The Pauli Exclusion principle) are called Fermions. Those that do not are called Bosons.

The "smallest" particles of "matter" (subatomic particles) have a ghost-like property: they flash into our space and time perception and they vanish just as quickly. Between the time that they are there—not there—and there again, they are not anywhere, they have vanished into space. We could say, that they are not anywhere—they could have wandered into Oakland. The motion of these "particles" is described in physics by quantum mechanics, which has no classical analogues, except in a probabilistic sense through a wave function. But is the wave function real, or is it simply a mathematical metaphor that describes processes that our outside the realm of our perception in  terms of structures that appear in space and time, of which we are aware.

A Fish's Perception of Skipping Stones

A little boy learned how to skip stones over the surface of a pond. He can amuse himself skipping stones for a long time. What does a fish see? Suppose that the fish cannot see out into the air because of the reflection of light at the surface. It is only when a stone actually strikes the surface that he can see where it hit. He therefore sees the skipping-stone impacts as a line of points, but he does not see anything between impacts. From the line of impacts, he mentally constructs a particle trajectory. We know that this is important to the fish, because bugs make such marks, and they are food for the fish. When the stone runs out of enough momentum to make another skip, it falls through the surface. Sinking rapidly, it falls to the bottom of the pond and disappears into the mud.

This analogy of skipping stones from a fish point of view has a limited analogy with how we perceive subatomic particles. Let us see how this applies to the quantum situation. We detect subatomic particles only when they hit something in the matter matrix undergoing what is called in physics, an inelastic collision. In an inelastic collision energy is redistributed from the gross properties of an object's motion to its and its target's internal motions. The result is that there appears something like a loss of energy from the object's motion; because the energy of its gross motion has disappeared from view.

So we see subatomic particles appearing our perceptual range when they suffer an inelastic collision with the matter matrix. As in the case of the skipping stones, between impacts, the subatomic particles are in space. What they actually are, we do not know. We are aware of them only through their point-like impacts. When they finally run out of enough energy, these particles are captured by the matter matrix, and cease to have an identity as single particles. They have sunk into the mud.

What is clear from the skipping-stones analogy is that reality is greater than our perceptual range. Our physical senses and their extensions, are confined to what happens in the matter matrix. A subatomic particle is produced when something is knocked out of the matter matrix with sufficient energy to engage in a large number of inelastic collisions with the matter matrix. By connecting the dots, representing those impacts, we mentally construct a particle trajectory. Unlike the trajectory of a classical object, such as a baseball, however, the subatomic particle as no perceptual continuity between impacts. So what we perceive of subatomic particles by interpolation, is that they are point like objects that move along a trajectory that can be either a curved, or a straight line. This tendency is just the make-up of our mind to see patterns in everything, to the point that we may imagine all  kinds of objects in random dots. Witness the fact that the ancient saw objects drawn out among the stars at night, which we call the constellations.

So what is a subatomic particle really, and what is it doing between impacts within our perceptual domain?  The honest answer is that we really do not know. What we know is that we can still salvage some predictability about the particle's motion by using probability theory, predicting distributions of events from wave-functions, which are interpreted a complex, probability amplitudes. Perhaps this constitutes a discovery of some sort, but not the kind that poor Dr. Einstein wished for. He thought that quantum mechanics was incomplete and that perhaps yet hidden variables to be discovered.

Swedenborg's Discrete Degrees

A previous post, "Substance and Form–Philosophy and Physics Part III",  identified what Swedenborg referred to as discrete and continues degrees in the corresponding terms in physics, quantized levels and continuous gradations, respectively. Here is what the uber-genious wrote in one of his theological works:

Divine Love and Wisdom (Ager) n. 211

211. Since all things civil, moral, and spiritual advance through degrees, just as natural things do, not only through continuous but also through discrete degrees; and since the progressions of discrete degrees are like progressions of ends to causes, and of causes to effects, I have chosen to illustrate and confirm the present point, that the outmost degree is the complex, containant, and base of prior degrees, by the things above mentioned, that is, by what pertains to love and wisdom, to will and understanding, to affection and thought, and to charity and faith.

The above reasoning is so tight and dense that to get the gist of what he is saying requires a great deal of thought, meditation and commentary, which unfortunately would take up most of this post.  Perhaps, in a later series of posts, this subject will be addressed more thoroughly. Perhaps, there may also be a follow up on this post in the future. But, here seems a good place to temporarily end this discussion.

E-mail: author@ghyzmo.com


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